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The public mourning of Dr. Urbino to Florentino's encounter with Fermina at the Doctor's wake
Three days of mourning are declared for Dr. Juvenal Urbino, and even the common people grieve for the death of such an esteemed man. A group from the School of Fine Arts creates a "death mask" to be used as a mold for a life-sized bust of the Doctor, but the project is cancelled because such an accurate rendering of his final, terrified expression is deemed indecent. Similarly, a famous artist renders Urbino's fatal move with stunning realism: the Doctor's arm outstreched towards the parrot. However, the artist changes one detail. He paints Urbino in the bowler hat and black frock coat he had worn during the days of the cholera epidemic, not in the outfit he had been wearing on the day of his death. The painting is displayed at a gallery for all to see, and is eventually hung in the School of Fine Arts, though, many years later, it is destroyed by students who protested its embodiment of a time and an aesthetic they despised.
Fermina Daza is not alone and helpless without her husband, as he had feared she would be, but is composed, and adamant that her husband's body will not be used for any cause, and is to remain in her home until the funeral, for private vigil with friends and family. Despite the tragedy, Fermina remains in complete self-control. Initially, she had been hopeful; she had seen Urbino's eyes, open and radiant, as he lay on the ground, and she had prayed to God to let him live another moment so that she could tell him how much she had loved him, regardless of their doubts. But soon this hope gave way to fury, which is what provided her the courage and control to attain composure. Standing beside his body during the vigil, Fermina Daza removes her wedding band and places it on her dead husband's finger, covers his hand with hers, and tells him that they will see one another very soon.
Florentino Ariza, the President of the River Company of the Caribbean, is hurt that Fermina has not recognized him among the crowd of people at the vigil, for it is he who, with the utmost efficiency, implements order at the chaotic gathering. He even captures the escaped parrot when it appears in the dining room. Florentino, who, as always, is dressed in morbid black clothing, has tried his best to conceal his seventy-six years of age.
An enormous crowd is expected at Dr. Urbino's funeral, but a torrential rain reduces the attendance. Florentino attends despite the rains, and stays until the end of the service. When he returns home, soaking wet, he is petrified he will catch pneumonia after "many years of care and excessive precautions." He medicates himself until he feels fully recovered, then attends the wake. Fermina bids farewell to the last of the mourners, and suddenly recognizes Florentino. She is pleased because she has not seen him in many years, and had erased him from her memory.
Florentino tells Fermina that he has waited for this "opportunity" for over half a century, to repeat to her his vow of "eternal fidelity and everlasting love." Fermina stifles her impulse to curse him, and orders him out of her house, demanding that he never return in all the years of his life, and that she hopes those years are few. For the first time in her life, she realizes the magnitude of the "drama" she had provoked at the age of eighteen, and for the first time since her husband's death, weeps in solitude. She prays to God to send her death that night, though as she sleeps, she sobs, and is fully is conscious that she is living. That morning, she awakes to realize that, as she wept, she had thought more about Florentino than she had about her husband.
Fermina Daza is a woman of immense pride, and thus is able to compose herself in the face of her husband's tragic death. Initially, she feels more anger than sadness at the loss of her husband, because she regrets not assuring him, "regardless of their doubts," that she loves him, and realizes that she will never have another chance to tell him so. That such "doubts" exist infers that something had gone awry in their marriage, and foreshadows an upcoming — and essential — part of the novel.
Fermina knows that she is soon going to die, as is revealed when she places her wedding band on her husband's lifeless finger and vows to join him. This gesture indicates her attachment and dedication to the Doctor, whom she genuinely and deeply cares for. Fermina fulfills her usual role as the commander of the household when she demands that her husband's vigil be strictly private. As the Doctor has lived his life in the public spotlight, lording power and influence over the city from his esteemed public positions, Fermina retreats to the home, comfortable in an intimate setting, and it is there that she is boss, in control of herself and of the situation, a control she exhibits throughout the funeral and wake.
It is only when she is approached, caught off-guard, by Florentino Ariza that Fermina nearly loses her composure. Even without knowing the history between Florentino and Fermina, we can infer from this incident that Florentino's love for Fermina is overwhelmingly strong and enduring, so strong that he feels compelled to reiterate his vow of eternal fidelity and love upon the first opportunity presented to him.
Fermina's startled, angered reaction to Florentino's professed love raises yet more questions about the history of their past relationship; what is the "drama" that Fermina had provoked at the age of eighteen, over half a century ago? And what had provoked her to erase Florentino from her memory? Clearly, Florentino is far more in love with Fermina than she is with him; Fermina does not seem to have any feelings for him at all, except for the burning rage she feels upon hearing his confession. Following this chapter, the relationship between Florentino and Fermina is adopted as the novel's primary focus, and the book recedes in time to explain both the history of Florentino and Fermina's mutual relations, and their individual lives.
Consistently throughout the novel, the presence of rain is either indicative or foreboding of a pivotal scene or critical turn of events in the book, such as when torrential rains flood the city on the day of Dr. Urbino's funeral. Rains had also ravaged the city on Pentecost Sunday, the day of the Doctor's death. Rain and other kinds of water (rivers, puddles, tears) are frequently represented in the book as bearers of cleansing and change, whether that change be positive or negative. The prominent downpour of the first chapter brings upon two immense changes, the first of which is the death of the prominent Doctor, and the second, the reappearance of Florentino Ariza in Fermina's life.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Love in the Time of Cholera!